Trail running, for those in the know, is not for sissies. It’s hard, it sometimes hurts and is addictive. And yet despite South Africa having some of the best terrain for trail running, it’s still not as widely practiced as road running, which is why there is very little information out there for wanna-be trail runners.
Fortunately, experienced trail runner Ian Little is at hand to remedy that situation. Little is a trail runner who has won two Cape Odyssey races (a five day 200km trail race from Hermanus to Stellenbosch), completed over 50 marathons including 10 Comrades and three Ironman triathlons.
So if anyone would know how to explain trail running, it’s him.
What makes trail running so different from road running?
In a nutshell – the terrain. Not only are the trail runs often on hilly routes, but the underfoot conditions can vary from loose rocks, sad, mud, corrugated road – and basically anything that isn’t tar.
What type of gear do you need to do trail running?
There are a couple of considerations here :
* Trail running shoes definitely: these will have more grip than road shoes and also generally more stability as your foot will twist and turn much more than on the road.
* Moisture management tops: while one of the advantages of trail running is that you can wear anything you like and this is what has led to a boom in the use of technical, quick-drying fabrics in clothing. However, moisture management tops allow the sweat to be wicked away from the body, keeping you cooler and therefore ensuring you perform at your optimum.
* Hydration packs: hydration is the last major consideration. While road races have water points, most trail races do not. This is to ensure that the environment is left in pristine condition and no litter left behind. Some trail routes will have natural water in the form of streams and rivers, but it’s always best to carry your own.
Lightweight backpacks with ‘bladders’ are commonplace and essential for an trail run over an hour.
How fit do you have to be?
As a general rule, a trail run will feel like twice the effort of a road run – therefore for a 10km trail run, expect to be fit enough to run 20km on the road. It will also depend on the underfoot conditions and the amount of climbing in the trail run, but this is a good general rule.
What are the best parts of trail running?
The scenery and being so close to nature! Most trail race organisers are runners themselves and look for the routes that offer the runner the best experience.
What kind of training do you need?
Run off road as much as possible and get used to the different demands the terrain puts on your body.
Get used to walking, which is very much encouraged in trail running but often alien to road runners. It gives you a welcome breather in tough undulating runs. Also practice using a hydration pack during runs.
What is the hardest part of trail running?
For me, accepting that distance isn’t important, but time is. As a road runner you and comforted by those constants. But on the trail you can take three times as long to cover the same distance and that takes some accepting.
Trail running also almost always has lots of steep hills and this can be a challenge for those not so fit runners.
What are some of the essentials for a run?
Water, some form of food (i.e. energy bar, gel, sandwich), charged cell phone, basic first aid ki, warm windproof top and a cap.
If you are in an exposed or out of the way area you need to be able to support yourself with nutrition, keep yourself warm and be able to contact someone should you find yourself in trouble.
What are some of the dangers and how can you prepare for them?
Most trail running injuries are from falls due the terrain. To avoid this, run within yourself. Always watch your feet and never look around!
Another safety tip is to always run with someone. Regretably the mountains and remote areas are not safe – so find safety in numbers.
What advice would you give to someone starting out?
Start slowly and with sort distances and gradually build up. Go to a shop selling trail shoes and expert advice. Enter short series events found here at Trail Series and Trail Running.
What advice do you have for tackling the lose stones, the high climbs and the steep downhills?
Just watch where you are running, walk the hills and go with the flow on the down. Don’t hold yourself back, just flow downhill. It might be easier said than done but practice, like everything, makes perfect!
(Amy Henderson, Health24, February 2010)